Many security suite products come in three-license packs. If you have four PCs to protect, you have to buy another three-pack. With Total Defense Unlimited Internet Security there’s no such limitation. Your $99 per year subscription lets you install the suite on as many PCs as you like. It also includes antivirus protection for Macs, and mobile security for Android devices, also as many as you like. An extensive set of tune-up tools and 25GB of hosted online backup make this a full-scale mega-suite.
The company actually offers two other suite products. Total Defense Internet Security Suite ($69.99 per year for three licenses) includes most of the same security protection as Unlimited, but it omits the backup and tune-up features. Total Defense Premium Internet Security ($79.99 per year for five licenses) is exactly like the entry-level suite, with 10GB of hosted online backup added. My contact at Total Defense tells me the company strongly emphasizes the Unlimited edition rather than either of these two. Only Unlimited appears on retail store shelves.
Like Trend Micro Maximum Security 2015, F-Secure Internet Security 2015, and a few others, the Total Defense suites don’t bother with a firewall component, leaving that task in the capable hands of Windows Firewall. Like Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete (2015), Panda Global Protection 2015, and others, Total Defense also omits spam filtering.
Older versions of this suite used a carousel-style layout, with four panels that visibly rotate into the primary position when clicked. In the current version’s main window, those four panels become four cards: My Security, My Kids, My PC Performance, and My Files. Clicking a card visibly flips it over for a status summary along with links to settings and reporting. If you prefer the more detailed view for any card, you can pin it into place.
When I went to install the Total Defense, the program asked me to register an email address and password. Turns out I already had an account, from some earlier review, but didn’t know the password. I was rather surprised to find that clicking “Forgot password” got me an email with the password in plain text. With proper security, Total Defense wouldn’t even have my password, just a hash of it. And sending that password in plain text is plain irresponsible, especially for a multi-device subscription like this one. A malefactor who got hold of my login data could remotely disable security on all of my devices.
Basic antivirus protection in this suite is the same as what you get with Total Defense Anti-Virus (2015). The one significant difference is that the suite includes Web-based protection against malware-hosting URLs and phishing URLs. For more information, you can read my review of the standalone antivirus. I’ll simply summarize here.
I follow reports from six independent antivirus testing labs scattered around the globe, using their analyses to help me identify the best antivirus products. Unfortunately, Total Defense only participates with one of these at present. In the last 12 tests by Virus Bulletin, Total Defense participated four times and achieved VB100 certification just once. By contrast, Bitdefender Total Security 2015 earned a perfect 12 of 12.
I determined that Total Defense’s full scan for malware is noticeably faster than the current average. It clearly optimizes subsequent scans by skipping files verified as safe. A second scan took barely a minute.
In my hands-on malware-blocking test, Total Defense wiped out most samples on sight, and eliminated several others when I tried to launch them. It scored 8.6 of 10 possible points; that’s the second-best score among products tested with my current sample set. Tested with my previous collection, Webroot managed a perfect 10.
I use a feed of newly discovered malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas to test how each antivirus deals with very new malware downloads. Starting with this review, I’m using a feed that’s filtered to include only out-and-out malware, not less-risky Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs).
Total Defense fared much better when tested with this more focused malware feed. It blocked 52 percent of the malware downloads, almost all by blocking access to the URL rather than by quarantining the downloaded file. I can’t properly compare that result to the current average, since I just switched to the new, filtered feed. It’s worth noting that even using the old feed, with PUAs included, McAfee Total Protection 2015 managed 85 percent protection.
Antiphishing and Identity Protection
Total Defense’s Web protection also aims to steer users away from phishing sites, fraudulent sites that attempt to steal login credentials by masquerading as, say, PayPal, eBay, or a bank site. This feature didn’t perform very well in testing.
To evaluate phishing protection, I gather a collection of newly reported frauds, too new to have been analyzed and blacklisted. I attempt to visit each simultaneously in five browsers, one protected by the product under test, one by antiphishing champion Symantec Norton Security, and one each by the built-in phishing protection in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
Kaspersky and Bitdefender are among the very few products that have edged out Norton in this test, but others have at least come close. Not Total Defense, with a detection rate that lagged 59 percentage points behind Norton, and 44 points behind Internet Explorer alone. It did beat out Firefox and Chrome, both of which haven’t done so well in my last few tests. Don’t rely on Total Defense to warn you about fraudsters—you’ll just have to stay alert if you’re using this software.
In addition to identifying the current Web page as safe, iffy, or dangerous, the Total Defense browser toolbar marks up links in search results. If you disagree with a page’s rating, you can easily submit your own suggested rating.
Total Defense also works to protect user-defined personal information from being transmitted insecurely via email or Web form. You enter any number of personal data items in over a dozen categories, among them credit card, passport number, and phone number. Items are protected by one-way encryption; if you go to change something you’ve entered, you don’t get to see the existing value. A similar feature in MicroWorld eScan Total Security Suite with Cloud Security allows viewing the existing data, which could be a security problem.
You can choose to block transmission of private data, or to require confirmation before transmission is allowed. Note, though, that this only applies to standard HTTP connections. If you’re sending your credit card number, phone number, and so on to a secure HTTPS site, Total Defense doesn’t interfere. So, if a fraudulent secure site gets past the antiphishing protection, your data isn’t protected. If a data-stealing Trojan slurps up your personal data and phones home using a secure connection, once again, you’re not covered.
As noted, Total Defense leaves firewall protection to the built-in Windows Firewall. It does include a Program Control feature whose behavior, while resembling that of firewall-based program control, isn’t quite the same.
Program Control is turned on by default, but it defaults to allowing access for unknown programs. If you want to get any protection from this feature, you need to change that so it denies access to unknowns. With this setting enabled, an unknown program just won’t launch. You’ll get an error message from Windows and a notification that the program was blocked; you can click OK to accept the block, or Allow to let the program run. In testing, I found that I had to re-launch the program after clicking Allow.
Your choices automatically get added to Total Defense’s lists of trusted and untrusted applications. You can also manually add a program to either list. Enabling this feature should prevent launching of most malware. It’s also likely to block various valid programs, until you’ve marked them as trusted.
Ambitious Parental Control
Some security vendors seem to do the minimum possible work in order to get a checkmark in the Parental Control column. Not Total Defense. This suite’s parental control system is significantly more ambitious than most, but it needs a little tweaking.
To get started, you create an Administrator password and set up accounts for your kids. You can create up to 10 program-specific accounts, or an unlimited number of accounts tied to Windows user accounts. You can add a profile image for each account, and choose one of three age profiles, Kid, Teen, or Adult.
You can set Internet time limits for each account, in two ways. The basic mode lets you turn access on or off for morning, afternoon, evening, or night. In advanced mode, you can set one or more time spans of permitted Internet time for each day of the week. This interface is rather awkward compared to the simple grid used by many. On the plus side, you can put a cap on total Internet time for each day.
The kids won’t evade the Internet schedule or daily time limits by tweaking the system date/time. However, all settings are local to the PC, so a child who’s used up Internet time on one system can simply switch to another.
Total Defense filters out websites matching up to 16 categories. The Kid profile blocks them all by default, while the Teen profile allows several categories including Chat, Blogs, Shopping, and Forums.
Total Defense can’t filter HTTPS sites at all; that feature is coming. At present, a clever teen who finds a secure anonymizing proxy website can totally evade parental control and monitoring. And a child whose user account has Administrator privilege can disable monitoring using a simple three-word network command. Yes, there’s a watchdog process that checks every few minutes and re-enables monitoring, but I managed to visit a number of naughty sites before it kicked in.
I also found that when using a very non-standard browser, one I wrote myself, I could occasionally access a naughty site that was correctly blocked in Chrome. In most cases, though, the off-brand browser displayed nothing at all, or crashed. Apparently Total Defense relies on its browser plug-in to convey information about why a site was blocked.
This product’s most ambitious feature involves controlling use of peer-to-peer file sharing applications and instant messaging tools. Parents can totally block six popular file sharing applications with a single click, or pick and choose which to allow. In a similar fashion, parents can block the whole collection of IM apps (AOL, Yahoo, IRC, Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, Google talk, and Jabber), or fine-tune settings to allow, block, or filter each of them.
When filtering is turned on, Total Defense will replace bad words in incoming or outgoing messages with #-marks. Note, though, that you must supply the list of bad words yourself. If you have any trouble coming up with a list, consider renting The Wolf of Wall Street. You can also configure the product to block specific IM chat buddies, or to limit your child’s connections to a list of approved buddies.
Filtering and blocking occurs at the protocol level, not the client level, so kids can’t evade it by using an alternate IM client. In testing, this feature worked very well. It correctly filtered out my specified keywords, and it blocked connection with banned contacts.
Parents can choose to receive email notification when the kids start acting up online. By default, the parental control system doesn’t send an alert for a single transgression—it waits for five on the same day. Of course you can change that threshold, and choose which events you want to be notified about.
Total Defense logs websites visited and blocked. You can filter the log to show full URLs or just site names, and you can choose to see those that were visited, blocked or both. Of course, you won’t see any that were accessed through a secure anonymizing proxy, as noted earlier. The report also lists IM events, like who was contacted, and whether keywords were filtered out. It also records each IM sent or received.
As I said, Total Defense is more ambitious with parental control than many, and its control of instant messaging and peer-to-peer file sharing is unusually good. However, it doesn’t filter HTTPS traffic, it can be temporarily disabled using a network command, and in testing, its browser-independence wasn’t perfect. I’m hoping the next edition will bring this feature’s capabilities into line with its aspirations.
Like Symantec Norton Security with Backup, Total Defense offers 25GB of hosted online storage for your backups. Total Defense costs $10 more than Norton, but it offers unlimited installations, while Norton’s backup-equipped edition limits you to 10.
Of course, even the best backup system does no good if you don’t use it. Total Defense makes backing up essential files really, really easy. Just click My Files in the main window and click Backup. Total Defense backs up your Documents, Music, Videos, and Pictures files, so at least you won’t lose those. You can, of course, add other files and folders to this basic backup.
At first I thought that was the entirety of the backup system. However, I found that clicking Restore brought up an elaborate Online Backup and Recovery Manager. Clicking Advanced Folder Backup let me add folders with specific retention policies. The four policies are: Replicate (delete backups when the original is deleted); Forever Save (like it sounds, never delete backups); Archive (delete the original once the backup is verified); and Time-Limited Backup (delete the backup after a certain number of days).
In the advanced settings, you can also set an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly backup schedule. By default, the backup proceeds with no user intervention, and sends an email notification when finished. Launching an advanced backup gets you a display that includes detailed progress information. You can also make a local backup of your files, if you really want to.
But wait—there’s more! You can enable bandwidth throttling, telling the backup system not to upload more than a certain amount of data per day. By default, after the first backup of a file Total Defense uploads only the changes, which saves immensely on the amount of data sent. However, doing so requires it to cache the previously backed-up version, which takes disk space. You can tweak caching options to emphasize less data sent or less disk space used. Oh, and you’ll definitely want to turn on secure SLL transmission for your data.
You can set Total Defense to encrypt your backups in different ways. Depending on your paranoia level, you can let the system manage the encryption keys, or you can use a known-only-to-you key. Naturally in the latter case if you lose that key, you’ve lost your backups. Note, too, that in order to change your encryption type you must remove all existing backed-up files.
Total Defense has struck a nice balance here, with very simple backup for less savvy users and fine-tuning abilities for those who know what they’re doing. It’s not the elaborate remote-access file-sharing system you get with Trend Micro or Webroot, but it totally does the job.
The tune-up component of this suite is almost precisely the same as Total Defense PC Tune-Up, except that it’s a more advanced version. Briefly, this product does a thorough job of locating and fixing anything that might slow down your PC’s operation. Do please read the full review of the standalone product. Note that we zinged it for allowing use on just three PCs; Total Defense Unlimited has no such restriction.
The most important addition to the tune-up lineup since our earlier review is a very capable vulnerability scanner. An unpatched vulnerability in Windows, your browser, or a popular application can open up your PC to attack. Total Defense doesn’t just identify problems, it fixes them for you.
If you notice that your Java or Adobe Reader is out of date, you can certainly go get the update yourself. However, you’ll have to be alert to avoid unwanted hangers-on, like browser toolbars you didn’t request, or changes to your search service, or home page. Total Defense goes for the update, the whole update, and nothing but the update. Really, it does a better job than most users could do on their own.
Even before I ran the tune-up utility, Total Defense didn’t display much of an effect on day-to-day file system operations. I timed a script that moves and copies a huge collection of various-sized files between drives, averaging ten runs with no security and ten with Total Defense installed. The script took just 1 percent longer to execute with the suite installed. Another script that repeatedly zips and unzips that same collection also took 1 percent longer.
Immediately after a reboot, my boot time test script starts watching CPU usage. After ten seconds in a row with CPU usage at 5 percent or less, it deems the PC ready for action and notes the time. Subtracting the start of the boot process, as reported by Windows, yields the boot time.
To calculate a boot time score, I average 100 runs with no suite and 100 with the suite installed. With Total Defense active, this test took 64 percent longer, more than any current product. This figure was so high that I re-imaged my test system and re-ran the test with no suite installed, to double-check. The 64 percent figure stands. Bitdefender, Webroot, and Kaspersky were among those that didn’t have any measurable effect on boot time.
Total Defense Ultimate offers a full security suite for as many Windows PCs as you may own, but that’s not all. Your subscription also lets you install antivirus protection on all of your Macs, and mobile security on all of your Android devices.
The Mac edition is similar to Total Defense Anti-Virus. It scans files for malware on demand, and on any access. It also includes an anti-phishing plug-in for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox. But that’s as far as it goes.
I was slightly surprised to see a PCMag Editors’ Choice logo and a quote saying that Total Defense Mobile is “a solid security suite that will keep your Android device clean and secure.” Why? Because we haven’t actually reviewed the product! The quote and Editors’ Choice designation belong to Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus 2.8 (for Android).
It turns out that the Total Defense product is a rebranded version of Bitdefender’s excellent mobile security tool. It offers a fast malware scan, an App Lock feature that can require a PIN code to use certain apps, and a Web security plug-in to fend of malicious and phishing URLs. The Privacy Advisor flags all apps that could conceivably harm your privacy. And a full-featured anti-theft component lets you locate, lock, or wipe a lost or stolen device remotely, either from a Web portal or using special SMS codes. It can also sound a loud alarm, in case you’ve just misplaced the device. For full details, read our review of Bitdefender Mobile Security.
Multi-Device Security Choices
Total Defense isn’t the only company offering a multi-device security subscription. I’ve mentioned Symantec Norton Security, which costs $79 for five licenses, or $89 for 10 plus 10GB of online backup. Symantec no longer offers standalone products like Norton AntiVirus, just the multi-device suite.
With McAfee LiveSafe Service 2015, as with Total Defense, you can install protection on all the devices you own. At $79.99 per year, it costs less than Total Defense, and boasts a better antivirus. Norton and McAfee include an online console that lets you manage all of your installations, something Total Defense offers only marginally.
Some similar subscriptions can be costly. A ten-license subscription to Kaspersky Total Security costs $149.95 per year, and a similar subscription for Panda Gold Protection 2015 goes for a whopping $269.99 per year.
It’s worth noting that Kaspersky, Norton, and McAfee offer a full security suite for Macs; with Total Defense you just get Antivirus. These three also offer password management as part of the suite, and include their own firewall and antispam components. Norton offers multi-device parental control. You configure settings for each child and then identify which devices or accounts that child uses.
Is This Your Total Defender?
Total Defense Unlimited Security lets you install security for all of your Windows, Mac, and Android devices. Its Android edition is a licensed version of a PCMag Editors’ Choice, though Mac protection is limited to antivirus, not a full security suite. The PC antivirus did well in our testing, but the independent labs have little to say about it. On the plus side, its tune-up component is outstanding.
Total Defense is good in many areas, but the competition is just better. Our Editors’ Choice products for cross-platform multi-device suite remain McAfee LiveSafe Service 2015 and Symantec Norton Security.
Note: These sub-ratings contribute to a product’s overall star rating, as do other factors, including ease of use in real-world testing, bonus features, and overall integration of features.